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Nurses harness patient engagement tools to educate and empower patients

By Gary Kolbeck, President of LodgeNet Healthcare

Until recently, patients at the four hospitals operated by NorthShore University HealthSystem (NorthShore) in Chicago’s northern suburbs were given standard printed educational material about their medical condition or scheduled surgery. It was clear to nurses, however, that some of their patients did not read or understand the information. Recognizing that this knowledge is essential for patients to become active participants in their own care and achieve the best possible clinical outcome, the nursing staff did their best to identify and fill in the gaps, but they recognized it wasn’t an ideal situation. This led the health system to implement a new patient engagement solution across its four hospitals that is designed to improve nursing efficiency, communication, clinical outcomes, and overall patient satisfaction. The program helps patients:

  • Become involved in their medical care during and after their hospital stay
  • Feel more in control of their situation
  • Optimize their hospital experience
Improving learning and retention

When patients are admitted, they often are worried, frightened, nervous, emotional, or stunned, especially after learning they have a serious medical condition. Not surprisingly, they often have difficulty grasping important medical information and recommendations. To overcome these problems, NorthShore wanted a patient engagement solution that could capture patients’ attention and then educate, empower, and encourage them to become actively involved in their care.

The health system purchased an interactive television system that allows nurses to prescribe videos that patients can view on their in-room TVs, which helps introduce them to the facility and their personal care team, as well provides them with safety information. Patients can watch specially selected videos about their condition and post-discharge treatment regimen. Patients can watch the videos as often as they want, whenever they like, and they are encouraged to ask their nurses and healthcare providers questions, which improves comprehension and retention.

The health system has found that patients typically ask lots of informed questions after watching the videos, which provides the opportunity for more in-depth conversations between patients and nurses. In addition to answering their questions, the nurses can encourage them to communicate any concerns in a timely fashion. The videos reinforce this encouragement by providing direction about what to do under certain circumstances. For example, patients learn that they should immediately inform their nurse when they are in pain and share the specifics of what they are experiencing rather than wait for their nurse to check on their status or hope that the pain will subside.  


NorthShore hopes the system will help transform patients from passive recipients of care to actively engaged participants. The organization recognizes that by improving treatment adherence, they are also reducing the costs associated with potential complications that could lead to extended hospital stays or readmissions.

Upon admission at a NorthShore facility, patients are shown an introductory video designed to assess critical aspects of patients' hospital experiences, such as communication with nurses and physicians, pain management, discharge information, and overall hospital experience. By using the patient engagement system they can identify areas where they can improve and know what patients are thinking at the beginning—rather than at the end of the stay.

Educating and encouraging patient involvement has also streamlined workflow and increased efficiency. For example, procedures that would have been cancelled or delayed in the past can proceed as planned because patients have taken the initiative to learn about their daily schedules and needed preparations. They know they are not supposed to eat before a test and inform their caregivers when food is delivered to them at the wrong time because of a last-minute scheduling change. Previously, tests and procedures had to be cancelled because patients inadvertently ate the delivered meal.

Patient reaction

The system has been well received by patients and their families, especially relatives of seniors who need special assistance. Those family caregivers welcome the opportunity to watch the videos and learn about what is happening to their loved ones and what they can do to help and support them. 

In addition to educational material, patients and their families can watch videos of individuals with the same diagnosis discussing their successful treatment and hospitalization at NorthShore. They can also enjoy movies, TV shows, sports programming, or play games, all of which helps reduce stress and enhances their comfort and overall hospital experience.

NorthShore is considering connecting the system to their electronic health record (EHR). This connection will automatically document when patients view specific videos, which will make life even easier for nurses by eliminating the need to enter this data manually.

With new mandates and regulations, such as meaningful use of EHRs, the creation of accountable care organizations, and other pay-for-performance reimbursement models dramatically altering how hospitals deliver and are paid for medical services, patient engagement is a clinical as well as a business imperative. NorthShore’s proactive efforts to educate, engage, and empower their patients will differentiate the health system in a highly competitive and rapidly evolving marketplace. They hope it leads to better clinical, financial, and operational outcomes and more satisfied and loyal patients and nurses.